Heir hunter

What Does An Heir Hunter Do?

Although the term ‘heir hunter’ might only be familiar to you through the BBC daytime show of the same name, it is actually a real job, and it could be that, one day, an heir hunter might contact you.

Heir hunters, also called probate detectives or genealogist researchers, are tasked with the job of finding family members after people die intestate (ie they die without leaving a will) and there is no immediate family to inherit their estate, or when there is a will and beneficiaries are mentioned, but there is trouble finding them. Since it is a rare thing for someone to die and not have at least one living relative, no matter how distant, it is in the heir hunter’s interests to find them. If not, after a period of time – currently 12 years – the entire estate will be passed to the government’s treasury department. Once that happens, even if a relative is subsequently found, the money cannot be returned.

What Is An Heir Hunter 300x199 What Does An Heir Hunter Do?

Once an heir hunter finds a case to proceed with, their first step is to create a family tree for the deceased person. They will need to investigate and dig deep into archives in order to find various branches of the tree, and ascertain who is the rightful heir of the estate. Although they have 12 years before the government can take the estate, there is still a time element involved as there will be various different heir hunting firms working on the same case. The first one to find the beneficiary and sign them to the firm will receive the commission.

Commission can range from anywhere between 10 and 30 percent (plus VAT) of the total estate, although some firms are now charging a fixed fee instead. Depending on the size of the estate, this could be a cheaper way of receiving an inheritance.

If an heir hunting firm gets in touch with you regarding a potential inheritance, don’t panic and sign the first contract you see – you could be better of waiting to see what other offers and ‘deals’ you are given by other firms. This could be the difference between many thousands of pounds. 

What if the sole beneficiary has died?

What if the sole beneficiary has died

This is not a common problem, but we are sometimes asked the question: “What will happen to the estate if the sole beneficiary has died?”

In most cases, if the beneficiary outlived the deceased by more than 30 days but then died before probate was granted then the rules of intestacy may be applied to the distribution of that person's inheritance if they had no will.  A lot would depend on what the first person's will stated, assuming they had a will.  This more complex situation would take place if there were no surviving beneficiaries and no issue of beneficiaries.

Depending on the structure of the family, distribution could be very complicated, with shares of assets often not equal. However, who is likely to receive something is listed below, in order of priority:

- Surviving spouse or civil partner (even if separated or in the process of divorce)
- The deceased’s surviving children
- Parents
- Brothers and sisters
- Grandparents
- Uncles and aunts
- Half uncles and aunts

In some instances, it is not clear who the remaining survivors are and in cases such as these, it may take the services of a reputable heir hunter to track them down, particularly if there are relatives who live abroad.

Beware of scammer heir hunter


A recent article in a national newspaper recently revealed that a woman had been contacted by a supposed law firm specialising in heir hunting.

The letter which she received from the bogus law firm called “Whittaker Advogados” which was apparently based in Portugal, stated that a relative had died and that according to the British Consulate, she was in line to benefit a considerable sum of money.

Although she hadn’t yet been asked for any money up front, quite rightly, the woman asked the newspaper columnist to research the company for her.

In actual fact, the company appeared to have been set up only a few weeks previously in the US, rather than in Portugal, as it claimed. There were no other references to the eminent lawyer named and the website itself was a direct copy of another law firm’s website.

Guaranteed, further down the line, the woman would have been asked to pay a sum of money in order to progress the bogus “case”.

This serves as a reminder to be on your guard when it comes to companies approaching you with excellent news of an unexpected windfall. Although a handful of individuals are indeed surprised by an inheritance each year, you should always research the relevant company first and never send any money.

There are genealogy professionals out there, as portrayed by the popular TV series “Heir Hunters”. If you have been approached why not give us a call on 0800 612 6105 to discuss.

Heir hunters – be your own heir hunter!

Thousands of people have been intrigued by the “Heir Hunters” programme on TV. The idea of identifying potentially valuable, unclaimed Estates and the exciting chase which subsequently takes place as research is carried out to find out if any beneficiaries exists, keeps us spellbound.
But how can you find out whether or not you may be entitled to benefit from an unclaimed Estate?
The Unclaimed Estates Register, also known as the Bona Vacantia List, is available from the government’s website and allows you to search by the deceased’s surname, date of death or place of death.
If you find someone on that list to whom you feel you may be related, contact a member of the Heir Hunters Association, who will help you to make a claim on the Estate. In order to do this, you’ll need to have proof of your connection through birth, marriage or death certificates and a diagram showing the family tree.
Most individuals on the Bona Vacantia List have left Estates valued in excess of £500 so it may well be worth your while finding out if anything has been left to you.

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